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Vineyard USA Celebrates Black History Month

Throughout the month of February, VUSA will feature stories of Black pastors and leaders within our movement and offer fresh resources and suggestions for our churches, pastors and leaders to celebrate Black History Month.

Lonette Baity serves on Vineyard USA’s National Team as the Events Specialist and she is a pastor at Greenville Vineyard in South Carolina. She is playing a key role in coordinating the Vineyard USA Better Together Conference happening in April in Columbus, OH.

Lonette says she was “born onto the pew” at the traditional Black Holiness church where her parents were leaders. She says “Some people got stuck on the legalism part of it, but I learned a very healthy reverence for the Lord. I fell in love with Jesus and all the beautiful ways He would show up.”

“When I was a little girl, my mom was training women in deliverance and inner healing in my house. I knew I wanted to be a part of it, and my mom invited me to participate. She would stand me next to her and say, ‘This is what we’re doing and this is what we’re seeing in the Spirit. Lay your hand here and pray like this.’ She trained me around 8 or 9 years old to have a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit and learn to listen to His voice.

As a teen, I was involved in a youth group and people would ask me to speak, but I was extremely shy. I knew that Jesus was asking me to do it for Him, and I would cry and tell Him I couldn’t. But I said that if He took the fear away, I would go wherever He told me to go, talk to whoever He wanted me to, and stand on any platform.” Lonette says that in her junior year of high school, the Lord told her to take a drama class, and even though she was resistant, she obeyed. That evolved into her joining a speech team and she spent the next four years traveling and speaking around the country. “It was like the Lord was preparing me along the way. He’d plant seeds in my heart and then slowly water them.” Lonette now teaches once a month at her church.

As a young adult, Lonette experienced a wide range of church denominations but said that when she walked into a Vineyard, she felt at home even though no one looked like her. She says that she has been encouraged by the focus on Associations and loved the BPLA worship during last summer’s VUSA National Conference. “I don’t often hear music and preaching that reminds me of home unless I search for it outside the Vineyard. But to hear it in a place that I call home and have it remind me of where I grew up felt very sweet. It’s beautiful to be able to come together as a Vineyard family that truly works to make space for everybody.”

As an encouragement to Black pastors and leaders, Lonette says, “Take care of your own heart and get around people who can help you in that. I’ve seen many Black pastors and leaders wear themselves out and probably put themselves in an early grave. There is this underlying culture, especially with women in the Black community, that if I don’t do it, it’s not going to get done. I’d like to remind us that it’s Jesus’ church; He’s the one who died for it and He’s the one who says he’s coming back for it. It’s His job to make that happen. And it’s our job to make sure that we take our hearts to Him so He can care for us and other people.”

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Aisha Oyarekhua is the Compassion & Justice Coordinator at the Valley Vineyard Church in Reseda, California. She also serves as the Compassion & Justice Specialist with Vineyard USA Missions and is a practicing attorney in California specializing in civil litigation. 

Aisha says, “We don’t have the option of ignoring the problems of this world; we are called to participate in what God is doing in redeeming it. As N.T. Wright says, ‘The gospel is not just about personal salvation. It’s about participating in God’s mission to bring healing and restoration to the world.’” 

Aisha says her interest in justice began in Nigeria. “I grew up with a lot of injustice, which has always made the idea of justice and fairness appealing to me, and it led me to study law. After years of practicing law, I felt that God was specifically calling me to advocate for the poor and those who can’t advocate for themselves. My law license gets me into a lot of places, and while I am providing practical help for a lot of people it also gives me opportunities to share the gospel while talking about justice. I want people to have a genuine experience with Jesus that changes their lives in a way that brings them lasting spiritual growth. The gospel should give people an uplift, disrupt systems of injustice, and break the poverty cycle.”

Aisha spends about 85% of her time doing pro bono work partnering with nonprofits to provide free legal services to the poor. “I partner with the Dream Center, a huge Christian nonprofit in LA, to help rehabilitate people with life-controlling issues by teaching classes like anger management and life skills. 

I also became a court-appointed special advocate in the foster care system, and have been mentoring a child for the past 7 years. We joke that she was the meanest 11-year-old when we met because she was just trying to survive, and now she’s doing well and applying for college, and it’s looking very hopeful. I may not be able to change the whole world, but by God’s grace that one kid is not going to go downhill like many other kids in the system. Similarly, I started working with incarcerated youth 9 years ago and there are 4 young men in prison who I’ve been mentoring. They need direction and care, so I visit them, write letters, and make phone calls. I would rather work with one person for 10 years and see that one person progress than with 50 people who have minimal progress. It takes hard work to invest in people, but it’s also changed my life. You think you’re working on people but God is working on you in the process. To be part of someone’s story is remarkable.”

To hear more from Aisha, listen to her talk at the 2023 SoCal Regional Conference

Book Recommendations:

The Deeper Journey: The Spirituality of Discovering Your True Self by Robert Mulholland

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: It’s Impossible to Be Spiritually Mature While Remaining Emotionally Immature by Peter Scazzero

Managing Leadership Anxiety: Yours and Theirs by Steve Cuss

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Zaneta Searles is the Worship Pastor at The Vineyard Church of Hyde Park in Chicago, IL. She has also worked as an entrepreneur for the past fifteen years and says that pursuing equity and reconciliation in the business space has been a large part of her journey and something that has spilled over into ministry.

Zaneta says, “Equity is top three for me. I believe the Kingdom of God is holistic. If it’s ‘God’s rule and reign brought to bear on the earth’, what does that actually look like? As the worship pastor, there’s the musical piece of it, but at the root of it is our hearts. I believe that equity looks like loving our neighbor well, which doesn’t mean what we think they need; it means engaging in a process to discover what it is they actually need. This requires lots of (sometimes uncomfortable) conversations and asking things like ‘What feeds your soul? What does worship look like to you? What songs are you listening to? What songs do we sing that really touch your heart, even in English? As a culture, what do you need and what do you want to hear to make you comfortable?”

Zaneta has been in the Vineyard for twelve years. She was raised in a Pentecostal Black church, where her father pastored, with a strong foundation of loving the Lord and being rooted in scripture. She remembers thinking at an early age, “I love to see people free.” Zaneta says, “I love the experience of ‘the Body’, which has been a mainstay in what I believe and how I approach ministry and shepherding people. We all bring equally important things to the table. Freedom looks different for different people, but it’s equally necessary. If we’re in bondage or oppressed in any way, that prevents us from fully expressing ourselves, and our authenticity can’t be discovered until it’s from a place of true identity. If we don’t have that, at best it’s an attempt; it’s not God’s original design. I’m after the blueprint.” Zaneta says that this desire infiltrates her approach to worship leading. 

When leading worship, Zaneta says, “I’m always trying to tap into what I don’t see and what I don’t hear. I’m always listening for something different that God wants to express over His people, catching the sound of heaven for this moment. God is in the now; he’s always moving and releasing things and I want to be in tune with that.”

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Adama Diakhaté

Adama Diakhaté is the Youth Pastor at Evanston Vineyard in Illinois. He is Senegalese-American, and after being raised in a Muslim household, Adama had two very tangible encounters with the Holy Spirit and decided to live for Jesus.

He earned his degree in elementary education with a special education endorsement and began working in youth ministry. Adama says, “When I came to faith, I thought I had to get rid of these unique things about my cultural/ethnic background to fit the mold of Christ that was being presented to me in the culture. I realized that wasn’t the case, that I could walk in step with the Spirit and uphold my cultural background, that I could bring all of me to the table, and with Christ at the forefront, people were experiencing a better version of me.

That’s also true when you’re thinking big picture about the many diverse socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds that make up a youth group. When you can create a space for everyone to bring all that they have to the table, it becomes a robust, lively, rich experience, and you get to see God displayed in so many ways that you wouldn’t have if you didn’t have all these people in the mix. That’s the beauty of it in the simplest way I can describe.” 

Adama continues, “In the gospel, Jesus talks about the great banquet, and your youth group is like a banquet you’re throwing every Sunday. If you are a youth pastor who feels like your youth group is dying, maybe it’s time to start inviting people who don’t fit your cookie-cutter group. A practical step is to take a demographic assessment of your youth group and pray specifically for those you don’t see represented. See what God can do. I did that and I have multiple stories of how people came out of nowhere and started attending our group. What seems impossible can be possible with God, so don’t make excuses for yourself or God.”

When it comes to building a multicultural youth group, Adama also says that becoming aware of our natural biases is really important! “We naturally gravitate towards a certain group of people, so when we’re doing the work of ministers of the Gospel, how does that translate? When we’re evangelizing to people, who do we evangelize to? When we’re giving prophetic words to people, where are our eyes, spiritual and natural, gravitating towards in the room? When we’re identifying and empowering leaders, are we looking for the leader who looks like ourselves, or are you recognizing leadership gifting in students who look different from you and express it in different ways? We know that leadership is expressed differently, so it is important to check where we fall short in our understanding.” 

You can hear more of this conversation with Adama on the Redpoint Podcast! 

Book recommendations:

Dangerous Jesus by Kevin “KB” Burgess

Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire

The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century by Grace Lee Boggs w/ Scott Kurashige

Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race by Beverly Daniel Tatum

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About Black History Month

How did February become designated as Black History Month?

Dr. Carter G. Woodson, an author, historian, journalist and founder of the Journal of Negro History, launched the first Negro History Week in February 1926. The week originally occurred during the second week of February to coincide with the birthday of Abraham Lincoln (February 12) and that of Frederick Douglas (February 14), both of which were dates Black communities had celebrated together since the late 19th century.

 Dr. Woodson was the second African American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard University (W.E.B. Du Bois was the first), and is known as the father of Black history. He wanted to see the teaching of the history of Black Americans in the nation’s public schools, particularly to African American children. Negro History Week later became nationally recognized as Black History Month in the mid-1970s, partially due to efforts at Kent State University in Ohio.

 As a result of these and other efforts, many are now aware of the African (American) contribution to the wealth in this nation as well as numerous scientific, cultural, and literary contributions that all Americans benefit from today. And, African Americans continue to make remarkable contributions in every sector of American life through economic progress, culture, religion, and the arts. This needs to be celebrated—and not just in February.

Better Together: In Pursuit Of Beloved Community

A Vineyard USA Conference that seeks to thoughtfully discuss race, gender, reconciliation, and the multiethnic church, while moving us intentionally toward being the Beloved Community. April 15-18, 2024 / Columbus, OH

Learn More & Register

Why should Vineyard churches celebrate Black History Month?

Charles Montgomery
VUSA Associations Strategic Coordinator

Unfortunately, Black History Month has been the subject of criticism from both Blacks and people of other races. Some argue that it is unjust and unfair to devote an entire month to a single people group. Others contend that we should celebrate Black history throughout the entire year. Setting aside only one month, they say, gives people license to neglect this history for the remaining eleven months.

Despite the objections, though, I believe some good can come from devoting a season to remembering a people who have made priceless deposits into the account of our nation’s history. Here are 3 reasons (certainly there are many more!) why we should celebrate Black History Month.

1. Celebrating Black History Month reminds us all that Black history is our history

It pains me to see people overlooking Black History Month because Black history—just like Latino, Asian, European, and Native American history—belongs to all of us – Black and white, men and women, young and old. The impact African Americans have made on this country is part of our collective consciousness. Contemplating Black history draws people of every race into the grand and diverse story of this nation.

2. Celebrating Black History Month compels us to remember the past and challenges us to re-engage in our present context

In the United States it’s quite easy to say that Black History started with slavery. Nothing can be further from the truth. Black History is a rich, cultural history replete throughout Biblical writ, and also transcends African-Americans. There are numerous groups of Africans, Jamaicans, Haitians, Dominicans, Brazilians and others residing in the United States regarded as Black and who share stories of both celebration and overcoming oppression. Many of these stories also include our white siblings (and other ethnicities) who have advocated for human rights and an end to unfair practices that target Blacks and other ethnic groups (abolitionists and Underground Railroad participants, for example). Hence, an integral part of understanding Black history is celebrating American progress and should fill all communities in this country with pride and joy-not just African Americans.

It also gives occasion for us to ask the question: in what ways have we either remained quiet recipients of privilege or not spoken up when we witness acts of injustice to others, regardless of their color or ethnic heritage. It challenges us to answer afresh: how do we fulfill what God requires of us: to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God? How do we reimagine both present and future to reflect the Kingdom of God in our communal context(s).

3. Celebrating Black History Month reminds us both of the beautiful mosaic of God’s creation and to recognize we still live between the already and the not-yet

As believers we should see racial and ethnic diversity as an expression of God’s manifold beauty. No single race or its culture can comprehensively display the infinite glory of God’s image, so He gave us our differences to help us appreciate His splendor from various perspectives. God’s common and special grace even work themselves out in the providential movement of a particular race’s culture and history. We can look back on the brightest and darkest moments of our past and see God at work. God is weaving an intricate tapestry of events that climax in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And one day Christ will return. On that day we will all look back at the history–not just of a single race but of people from every nation, tribe, and tongue –and see that our Creator had a plan all along. He is writing a story that points to His glory, and in the new creation, His people won’t have a month set aside to remember His greatness. We’ll have all eternity.


Resources & suggestions to help you and your church celebrate

  1. Stake the claim in your congregation that Black history is an integral part of our shared American history. Celebrate it. This is a way to acknowledge the incredible efforts of Black brothers and sisters to persist and thrive.
  2. Show appreciation for how Black people and leaders in the Vineyard and beyond have helped us to become a more Beloved Community and reflection of the kingdom of God.
  3. Pray, teach, and preach about the call of the gospel to serve the oppressed, bring hope, and to love justice. Don’t be afraid to ask: Why is this the way it is? How did it come about, and what can do we as a church to address these inequities?
  4. Learn and study more about famous people of African descent in America and all over the world. Encourage children to embrace these role models irrespective of their ethnic heritage or skin color.
  5. Read authors from other ethnic groups and who hold different perspectives, particularly ones who may have first-hand experience with Black history throughout the world.

Learn more at the Black Pastors & Leaders Association

Alex Faison has been in a season of intentionally saying “yes” to the Lord, which has deepened her trust in Him and strengthened her confidence in how she was created to be.

Born and raised in Davenport, IA, she was introduced to the Vineyard movement in 2012, graduated from high school in 2014, and then entered college on a full-ride scholarship for Music Education. While attending college she (and others around her) felt God’s leadership call on her life, and she made the decision to leave school and accept a job offer from her home church at the young age of 19. Alex has been the worship pastor at the Vineyard Church of Davenport ever since. This was a big “yes” to the Lord, and while there have been some hard moments, she loves being in ministry and is grateful for where the Lord has placed her.

Other “yeses” she regularly gives include sharing the words the Lord lays on her heart for others, speaking up and engaging in the hard conversations that she knows will bring health and growth to her church and relationships, and holding fast to the path that the Lord is leading her on. Alex has seen a lot of growth in herself through being intentional with asking questions of those around her who have been leading with integrity and courage for a long time and says that being a part of the Black Pastors and Leaders Association has been a special connection, as it provides a safe place to process and learn from people who have a similar cultural experience.

Alex is passionate about leading people into the presence of God at her local church and with the broader Vineyard movement. She has worked with Vineyard Worship for several years and was a featured voice on Vineyard Soul: Generous God, Breathe In, Sing Out, and she will also appear on other anticipated Vineyard Worship releases in 2023.

Alex’s book & worship leader recommendations: Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer and worship leader Naomi Raine, besides all our wonderful Vineyard Worship leaders.

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